Believe it or not, Soulja Boy released a good album. Well, half of one anyway. It's a start.
Shortly after Soulja Boy endured a Twitter-fied beating from older peers and armchair critics for his third album's utter failure to sell, Andrew Noz of CocaineBlunts made a very salient point: Only his debut album managed to crack six figure sales, yet Soulja Boy is a legitimate millionaire. How is this possible? The answer lies in ringtones and Youtube views, of which Soulja Boy has always been an undisputed leader. He further noted that there are very few listeners under 18 - and quite possibly as old as 24 - that really don't buy albums anymore; they just Youtube them. And why not? Sound quality barely matters these days to most listeners -- what matters is a good hook and a thunderous 808. But not only did he make this defense in the name of one of the worst plagues hip-hop's ever endured, he posited that DeAndre Way was legitimately good. Such blasphemy from one of the best curators of all types of southern hip-hop? How come?
Well, first of all, while Soulja Boy spent the majority of 2009 and 2010 cranking out mix-tapes that slowly absorbed various tropes of 1017 Brick Squad (He admits as much on this album's second track) and, later on Lil' B, he also spent that time becoming something of a legitimate rapper. Granted, he's not the next Jay Electronica, let alone Kilo Ali, but in terms of a guy who's less than annoying to listen to. Faint praise on its own, but the fact remains as evidenced by his digital presence the 20-year old always knew how to make a catchy hit single. And while he might now at best be referred to as a poor man's bastard child of Gucci Mane and Lil' B, I do think it's quite notable that he's managed to acquire any talent at all.
The DeAndre Way also capitalizes on the amount of tapes he's released recently by keeping itself limited to a shockingly svelte 35 minutes. It's apparent from the first set of songs -- which are in some ways the weakest here -- that he's decided to only give us his very best effort here, saving his more obscure efforts for stuff like Legendary, Cortez and follow-up Smooky. "Pretty Boy Swag" gets derided in certain circles for the Wheelchair Stevie flow, but there's no denying its penetrable style, just the same as "Crank That" or "Turn My Swag On". And "30 Thousand 100 Million" might be so indebted to Lil' B's vision as to seem ridiculous, but it's also the most mainstream and swagged out visions of that aesthetic to date. And the beat is so cheaply ridiculous and endearing, it's almost hard to believe. The album tails off after this track, but at that point, you can either press stop or endure less then ten minutes of music. Neither option requires any real struggle.
Really, is the first full-length Soulja Boy project that doesn't feel like the work of an amateur stumbling into a pile of money and having a good time with it. Like SouljaBoyTellEm before it, DeAndre Way implies Soulja Boy has room to grow and is eager to continue ironing out the kinks in his presentation. We're probably never going to get a Soulja Boy Tell 'Em album that displays even a modicum of care for his community or anything that doesn't involve his own success, but within that narrow vision, this album demonstrates that he may one day find out how to make his own success a viable listen to those outside of his core audience. DeAndre Way is essentially a release designed for the folks that can't stomach the lo-fidelity, hi-insanity antics of Brandon McCartney. The randomness and self-aware satire is forsaken in favor of more simple party music, but if anyone's custom built to deliver that sort of project, it's a millionaire 20-year old who's had free reign to do just about whatever he wants in his personal life since he was 17.